REVIEW: ‘Lone Ranger: Vindicated’ #1

(Dynamite Entertainment, 2014)

Story: Justin Gray
Art: Rey Villegas
Colours: Morgan Hickman
Letters: Simon Bowland

I didn’t follow Dynamite’s Lone Ranger comics which launched in 2006 and recently ended despite reading a number of positive reviews over the years and it was with some trepidation that I requested this #1 to review. I’ve been in the wilderness for a while and reviewing a first issue feels like a good jumping-in point and I am fundamentally interested in Westerns regardless of medium however my last encounter with The Lone Ranger was, like my preconceptions of the series, resoundingly negative.

Disney’s The Lone Ranger (2012) cast Johnny Depp as The Lone Ranger’s Native American side-kick Tonto (Spanish for ‘stupid’ or ‘crazy’). Beyond the obvious issue of ‘redface’ – selecting a white actor to portray a Native American character in a Hollywood that contemporarily has precious few roles never mind major roles for Native American actors – Depp’s portrayal of Tonto was based on stereotype and ‘otherness’. Johnny Depp, the arsehole, said in an interview that the goal was to expose the stereotypes so the audience could recognize when those stereotypes were being reversed. It would’ve been a real integrity move if Depp had just said ‘SHOW ME THE MONEY’ when asked about Tonto. Adrienne Keene’s blog Native Appropriations has an excellent post discussing Disney and Depp’s Tonto:

Here’s the thing. Yeah, Tonto is a fictional character, and there are plenty of white actors and actresses who play fictional characters, and we don’t automatically assume that white people are fictional, so it shouldn’t matter, right? We saw Natalie Portman as an evil-crazy-swan-human in the Black Swan, and we don’t assume that Natalie Portman’s character is representative of her, or all white people, in real life. But that, my friend, is white privilege at work. Everyday we see millions of representations of white people in varied and diverse roles. We see white actors as “real” people, as “fantasy” characters, and everything in between.

But for Native people, the only images that the vast, vast majority of Americans see are stereotypical in nature. You go to the grocery store and see plenty of smiling white children on cereal boxes, contrasted with the only readily recognizable Native image–the Land o’ Lakes butter girl. In advertising we see plenty of non-Native folks participating in everyday life, and then we get ads like this featuring Native people. There are also hardly any (if any) Native people in current, mainstream television shows. And this carries over even more strongly into Hollywood.
[…]

How can we expect mainstream support for sovereignty, self-determination, Nation Building, tribally-controlled education, health care, and jobs when the 90% of Americans only view Native people as one-dimensional stereotypes, situated in the historic past, or even worse, situated in their imaginations? I argue that we can’t–and that, to me, is why Tonto matters. [SOURCE]

Going into The Lone Ranger Vindicated #1 the primary issue for me was the treatment of Tonto. With that said, I am aware that I am not positioned to cast any authoritative judgement on whether or not the character is offensive, progressive or otherwise. However, I am aware of the stereotypical depictions of Native Americans that pervade our collective cultural consciousness and which constantly cast Native Americans as a mythological, historical ‘other’ and it is my position that a comic book which feeds into this is quite simply not a comic book I want to read or support.

There are some aspects of the character Tonto that the writer may not be able to escape within the framework of The Lone Ranger – the name for one, and the sidekick positional relationship. With that said comics are an opportunity for writers to pick up an established framework and put their own mark on it.

In The Lone Ranger Vindicated #1 Tonto seems to be written as a ‘normal guy’ and the relationship between him and the Ranger seems more buddy cop than subservient despite minor characters perceiving Tonto as belonging to the Ranger from the outset. There’s no preternatural mystical shit, there’s no broken English and Tonto isn’t standing conversing with a fucking horse like Depp’s character. In fact within the framework of a buddy-cop relationship this Tonto could be seen as the ‘straight guy’ as The Lone Ranger goofs up talking to a woman he meets and Tonto corrects his English, rolling his eyes. Again, I’m not in a position to be passing authoritative judgements but I feel Gray demonstrates the integrity to steer clear of lazy stereotyping and mythologizing and work a discourse about race into the comic. Fair play.

Structurally, the characters are introduced in a brief 4-page confrontation which lets you get some measure of the characters before diving into the first arc, setting up a number of mysteries to be solved by the protagonists and plenty of reasons to pick up issue #2. It’s a relatively standard first-issue, giving you a look at the characters, setting and what might come in the series. The art is rough and gritty, well suited to the time period and setting.

Something that stood out to me was the borderline ‘cheesy’ down-the-line word-of-the-law approach of The Lone Ranger (“I’m sure they’ll give you and your men a fair trial”) and the perception of the Lone Ranger one pedestrian has: men who believe in justice over personal gain. Where this comic will really get interesting is where Gray starts fucking with fixed realities like good and bad, right and wrong, justice and injustice. You take the Lone Ranger who will not shoot to kill – the two men dedicated to justice – and you throw them a wild west where concrete realities do not exist and everyone is out for themselves. How will the code endure when there is no such thing as a ‘fair trial’, when the Ranger and Tonto are conned into helping the ‘bad guys’ or when there are no good guys to help? We’re one issue and one crooked sheriff in so there’s potentially a lot to look forward to.

An interesting new offering with a lot of potential from Dynamite.


JohnMonaghan-profile-pic

John is a writer, wrestling fan, and man of the people from Glasgow, Scotland. On a class outing to the library when he was ten, John stole a Sandman trade paperback because they wouldn’t let him hire teenage books on his children’s card. He’s been reading comics ever since.

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